Sharing the leadership journey

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Karen Finlayson

Karen Finlayson is a partner at PwC and one of the organisation's most senior women working in health. In this blog for International Women's Day she reflects on her journey into leadership.

I chose to work in the health industry because I care about the health and care provided to people in this country. My mum and both her sisters were nurses and worked in the service for more than 30 years, so I’ve always had links to the NHS.

I love my job, but my journey to where I am today hasn't always been easy. Through hard work, resilience and patience, I have, however, achieved more than what some people might have expected from me.

I started out in professional services 20 years ago and my route in, in terms of education, was very different to many. I left school at 17 undecided about what I wanted to do for a career. I was eager to get a job so I started my working life as an apprentice. Over the years I did a number of jobs working in the accounts department in financial services, but I realised that I wanted to achieve and learn more, so I went back to college. 

Focusing on evening classes to do my A-levels, I then completed an accounting course so I could go to university. I did this on an evening and part-time basis and gained a post graduate diploma in accounting and finance, before joining PwC.

When I reflect on my leadership journey, there are three key things that have made the difference.

  • Resilience – because the leadership road can be a bumpy one. When things don’t go your way you need to pick yourself up, remain positive and optimistic that if you work hard and do the right things it will work out okay.
  • Confidence – have confidence in your own abilities and what you have to offer. Be bold and don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and stand up for what you believe in.
  • Learning – the best leaders are always learning and developing themselves and others. They are not afraid to make mistakes, learn and grow into better individuals and leaders.

The people who know me today may not believe that at times I have lacked confidence. But I found that when I did have the courage and confidence to take on something, I learnt and developed. I now look at such challenges as learning opportunities and over the years have developed a mind-set which now means I am more afraid of not trying than I am of failure.

I’ve always had good mentors and a support network who have helped me and guided me through some difficult career decisions and choices. It's key to have people you can trust and who will give honest feedback, even if at times it’s not what you want to hear.

Finally, in the words of Kevin Spacey, anyone who breaks through a glass ceiling has a responsibility ‘to send the elevator back down and give others a helpful lift’. I believe leaders must give something back, either through coaching or mentoring of others. Women should also find other women who are forging a career path, and advise and support them to ensure they can be the best they can be. The best organisations are those where women are represented at all levels, including the top.

Karen was a guest panel member at our recent HSJ Women Leaders Network event. Find out more about the event, and watch the video, on our web page.

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